ANALYSIS: Glencore takes contrarian approach with two big purchases
Even for commodities deal king Ivan Glasenberg, it’s been a busy week.
Glencore announced two acquisitions potentially worth as much as $2bn within days of each other: one to capture a stake in Chevron’s oil refining and fuel service stations in SA and Botswana, the other to take a bigger stake in Latin America’s top zinc miner.
It’s the strongest sign yet that Glencore and its billionaire CEO are hungry for acquisitions and growth as business revs back from the commodities crisis of 2015.
It also highlights the company’s divergent business strategy compared with major players Rio Tinto and BHP Billiton, which have focused on dividends and stock buybacks.
Glencore has "a choice of returning cash to shareholders or buying assets that they think can deliver more than that", says Paul Gait, an analyst at Sanford C Bernstein in London. "If you are a shareholder in Glencore, you probably think Ivan Glasenberg is a shrewd operator that can add value in that process."
On Friday, the Swiss commodities company agreed to buy a controlling stake in Chevron’s assets in Southern Africa for $973m. The assets include a 100,000-barrel-a-day refinery in Cape Town and more than 800 petrol stations.
Off the shelf
Glencore will buy 75% of Chevron’s South African and Botswanan business from minority black investors who exercised a pre-emptive right.
It plans to support the black investor group, Off The Shelf Investments Fifty Six, as a technical and financial partner, according to a statement.
The acquisition, together with a recent deal in Mexico to invest in fuel service stations and terminals, signals a shift in Glencore.
Until now, the company had invested in so-called upstream assets, such as oil fields, to complement its trading operation.
After significant write-downs in oil fields in countries including Chad, Glencore is now investing in so-called downstream businesses such as refining and fuel service stations.
It comes as commodities traders including Vitol and Trafigura have pushed into the business globally, to help offset declining margins in their bread-and-butter trading businesses.
The firms now have hundreds of stations from Latin America to Africa serving as outlets for the products they trade.
On Tuesday, Glencore also pushed into South American zinc by inking a deal to take a bigger stake in Peru’s Volcan Cia Minera. It will acquire 27% of Volcan’s Class A voting shares for $531m. It may increase its stake even further via a public tender, which could leave the total price tag at $956m.
Zinc prices have doubled to $3,279 a tonne since the start of 2016, driven by mine shutdowns and China’s curbs on pollution and mine safety.
Last month, spot zinc traded at the biggest premium to futures in 10 years, a condition called backwardation that’s a red flag for demand overshooting supply.
Disclaimer: Bloomberg chairman Peter Grauer is a senior independent nonexecutive director at Glencore.